River Cottage

While vacationing in Dorset, England, we went to the Member’s Party at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage. As we found out, this special party only happens twice a year and thanks to a last-minute cancellation, we wiggled our way in.

I first heard about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall during his “Chicken Out!” campaign, advocating a nationwide change from battery raised chickens to free-range ones. The River Cottage series on TV as well as his many cookbooks are good fun and a great source of inspiration. His “real food” and “back to basics” campaign has inspired many people I know to shop and eat more consciously, start a vegetable garden, raise chickens or even cure their own meats. I have recently bought “The River Cottage Family Cookbook” which is written and designed for all family members. The recipes cover many basics and family favorites, are easy and fun, and include a lot of “whys” as well as “hows”. It’s a very inviting book and a great source of information about food, how to grow it, buy it and cook it, and I am sure we’ll get lots of use out of it. .

The River Cottage is a beautiful old farm house surrounded by stunning grounds and rolling hills. Next to the cottage are a handful of buildings to cater for the year-round events and classes organized by the River Cottage team. While strolling through the grounds, we discovered a state-of-the-art biomass heating system and a chicken coop fit for a king. I couldn’t get enough of the vegetable garden, admiring the fantastic diversity and abundance of beautiful produce. We sipped apple cider and nibbled on various crudites and canapes and bowled a few balls at the outdoor bowling alley. Dinner was served in a large tent, filled with long wooden tables and even a dance floor. We ate delicious fish soup, which was served home style out of large terrines, followed by melt-in-your-mouth roast lamb with salad and potatoes, and finished with a wonderful dessert made with gooseberries, elderflower custard, meringues and berries. There were several local cheeses to choose from and plenty of organic beer and wine to round up the meal. I learned all about meat curing from my charming neighbor and enjoyed a brief conversation with the host about Australia. He might come down here sometime, which would be most appreciated by his rather big OZ fan base. Next time we’re in England, I hope to be able to participate in some of the cooking classes at the cottage. But who knows when that might be…

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